A growing demand for health information has turned librarians into health insurance guides, Kaiser Health News reported.
The Free Library of Philadelphia's central branch, for example, holds twice-weekly enrollment clinics, and 12 library locations in Philadelphia will accept individual sign-up appointments or run walk-in sessions until at least the end of March.
"Our role here in library land has been changing rapid fire," Free Library Director Siobhan Reardon told KHN. "The trail into getting insurance is not a neatly designed trail, and so there's [no one] better than a librarian to help navigate."
In one year, roughly 28 million people visited libraries in search of health information, according to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). "So we know people are going to the library and we want to make sure librarians know about community resources and websites that they need to give them accurate information," Mamie Bittner, the IMLS director of government affairs, told KHN.
In July, the IMLS partnered with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to help people learn about the new health insurance marketplace. Their initiative connected librarians with CMS navigators and certified application counselors to help library goers understand new coverage options.
Public libraries in California have been embracing their new role as health insurance guides. Oakland Public Library hosted several events in December to teach residents about healthcare reform and how to enroll in coverage, and the Los Angeles Public Library offers free information, workshops and healthcare enrollment assistance at all of its locations.
"We want to make it easy for Angelenos to navigate the new healthcare marketplace," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a December announcement from The California Endowment. "That's why L.A. is turning our 73 public libraries into health information hubs that will help people get affordable insurance plans to improve their health and well-being."